The gardens of Chateau du Villandry are enormous, elaborate and extensively documented. The Potager (Vegetable Garden) is a mecca for garden tourists—of which I am one, let’s face it, with my camera perpetually attached to my chest like a third arm. I was warned by others who have gone before me that I would be disappointed, but it was more of a sense of adequately fulfilled expectation—no more, no less. Except, that is, for the Water Garden.
Even in France, where centuries of history are respectfully recorded and remarkable gardens are classified and subsidized by the government, Landscape Architects often go uncredited. Perhaps they are unknown, or the information is deemed unimportant by the brochure writers (unless it was a “biggie” like Le Notre or the Duchenes.) But to those who are looking and know the signs, the influence of a talented—if forgotten—LA are unmistakable: defined axial layouts, close ties to architecture, consideration of views, manipulation of slopes, proportion of spaces and harmonious details. Such spirit and intent is evident at Chateau de Valmer, where the landscape maintains its strength despite the passage of four hundred years and the loss of its anchoring structure.
I have made two new friends in my travels: Sabine, my French-speaking GPS, who patiently and reliably directs me along barely-paved roads through fields of sunflowers to the most remote locations; and Serendipity, who is apparently the one actually organizing this trip, while I am merely financing it. Between the three of our contributions, it is assured that I not only show up to each garden but also take from them a series of compounded lessons based upon some divine order of experience. Chateaus Hautefort and Losse were the first test of my appreciation for Serendipity’s intervention. And now the disappointment of Manoir d’Eyrignac has been transformed by my visit to Prieure d’Orsan, clarifying my (previously snarky) criticism of the former and solidifying my respect for the latter.
The Jardins du Marqueyssac were much anticipated, not by me so much as several of my friends who are vicariously joining me on this adventure. The rolling-folding-squirming boxwood seemed just too weird for my straight-line-right-angle taste. But this garden is one of the most famous in landscape architecture, and I am easily charmed by eccentricity.
Same theme, different manifestations: When all the battles are fought and defenses down for good, fill the ramparts with gardens. But even with matching intent, the landscape expressions at Chateau de Hautefort and Chateau de Losse are distinctly unique in character. Hautefort like an aging lady filling every line with the fanciest treatment and gaudily painting over the ones she can’t erase. And Losse taking minimal but confident action to make the most of her fortunate genes, gracefully and enviably carrying herself through the passage of time.
All previously discussed assurances of low expectations aside, my first first-hand experience of a Jacques Wirtz landscape was highly anticipated. Discovering this garden began as a fluke and continued as a mission. A Google search for French gardens during my initial research led to a Veranda magazine slideshow that contained images of a who-what-where-is-that-?! garden. Veranda gives very little information—where-Margaux, who-Axel Vervoordt—but I am resourceful verging on hacking when it comes to finding information on the internet. A few carefully selected search words, and voila, Chateau du Tertre.